With all the details that go into crafting a successful advocacy campaign, it may be tempting to relegate diversity and inclusion to an afterthought. But failing to account for inclusion in all its forms can significantly impact your campaign’s success.
Ignoring inclusion means you risk inadvertently excluding large swaths of potential supporters — and having a less successful campaign as a result.
To illustrate just how many people can get left out when a campaign isn’t inclusive, Stacie Manger, director of digital communications at the American Forest and Paper Association, explains that about 25 percent of the population in the U.S. has a disability, many of which are unseen. “There are five generations in the workforce, a mix of digital natives and adaptives, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, people with different cultural backgrounds, and people who don’t speak English as their first language,” she says.
Considering all this diversity that’s around us every day, it becomes evident how important inclusivity is for grassroots advocacy. “When we design and build campaigns that are accessible, inclusive, and put people first, we are casting a wider net,” Manger adds.
Here are some tips for casting that wider net by creating more inclusive campaigns.
Best Practices for Putting Inclusion at the Heart of Your Campaign
With several aspects of inclusion to consider — such as race and ethnicity, ability, and age — it can feel daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, there are some best practices you can follow no matter what groups you’re trying to reach.
As with so many things, the first step is to set a goal, according to Erica Harris, manager of social impact at the Public Affairs Council. Having a goal will give you specific achievements to work toward your inclusion efforts and keep them on track.
Once you have that goal set, it’s time to do some research. “Look across the communities and stakeholders that are affected and pull research to see how they are impacted,” Harris suggests. This can help you understand where there are opportunities to reach a broader audience, as well as whether there are any demographics in your target community that you may not have been aware of.
While in the planning stages, it’s critical to get buy-in from leadership from the very beginning. “It’s so important to have champions at the leadership level to provide you with the support and the visibility that you need internally,” Harris says.
Finally, make sure you’re able to evaluate and adjust your strategy as you go. If your campaign isn’t connecting with the groups you hoped to attract, be prepared to change your strategy in response.
Tips for Promoting Diverse Voices
Central to inclusion is a commitment to featuring diverse groups of people and elevating their voices. Making space for people from underrepresented groups (including marginalized races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, sexual identities, etc.) sends the message that every type of supporter is welcome in your campaign.
Lifting diverse groups of supporters starts with research, both to understand who is in your target audience and to develop the sensitivity needed to effectively connect with them. As part of both your outreach and your research, it’s a good idea to form partnerships with organizations that already specialize in serving underrepresented demographics.
“A lot of organizations are not recreating the wheel,” when developing outreach plans, Harris says—– other organizations have likely already done the legwork to form connections with those groups. “Partner with organizations that are already involved with the communities that you’re trying to reach and see what their data shows, and use that to inform your plan.”
You can augment these grassroots partnerships by collaborating with local legislators. Legislative staff often have deep knowledge of the constituents in their communities and have likely already developed strategies for reaching them.
Finally, it’s essential to be thoughtful about what language you’re using in your messaging, as well as who is communicating that message for you. Examine your phrasing for anything that might be off-putting to specific groups, even accidentally. Then, try to feature people from underrepresented groups in the visuals you create and in the influencers and organizations you partner with.
“Campaigns should be stories, [and] people want to feel like they can identify with the story that you’re telling,” Harris says. If they can, they’ll be more likely to support your campaign.
How to Make Your Advocacy Accessible
There are likely many more disabilities present among your supporters than your team realizes, especially considering that many disabilities are invisible. Accounting for accessibility in both your event planning and your digital communications ensures that your campaign is open to everyone, growing your pool of potential supporters.
“The first tip is using plain, clear, and simple language, even for experts,” recommends Manger. “The average reading level across the U.S. is 5th to 6th grade … If you’re using industry jargon, acronyms, and writing complex sentences, your message will be lost.”
When creating visual content, Manger also advises making sure all images have alt text, which is text that can be read by screenreading software so visually impaired people understand what’s being shown. Also, check for color contrast to ensure people who are colorblind can make out your graphics.
Closed captions should be available for all videos — not just computer-generated captions, but captions checked for accuracy by a human. This is necessary for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, and it can also be helpful for people with attention issues.
Physical accessibility should of course be considered when hosting in-person events. Your venue should have ramps or elevators, aisles wide enough for a wheelchair, accessible seating, and so on. Try to have a sign language interpreter or closed captioning available if any speeches or talks are planned.
These simple steps and small investments can go a long way toward making your campaign open to a wider field of supporters.
Strategies for Appealing to All Generations
Many advocacy groups miss out on engaging a broad supporter base because they write off entire age groups. Age may not be the first category that comes to mind when thinking about inclusion, but age discrimination is prevalent, causing organizations to discount Boomers for being too old or deem Millennials and Gen Z useless because they’re too young.
The truth is that every age group has something to offer, and creating campaigns that appeal to all age groups can ensure you reach the broadest audience possible.
To do this, consider tailoring your communication and social strategy so you can connect with each generation in the way they want to be reached. Different generations gravitate toward different forms of media, with Boomers still consuming broadcast news or print media and Gen Z more interested in digital media that are visual and video-forward. Repurposing your content so it can be shared across all of these different formats can connect you with all age groups.
“You need a strategy to connect with each different generation,” says Reed Howard, vice president of strategy and public affairs at Millennial Action Project, a nonprofit dedicated to activating millennial policymakers. “So, maybe for an older audience, you’re finding ways for them to engage in person … and for younger audiences, you’re engaging with them digitally,” Howard says in a recent VoterVoice webinar. And you have to have the resources to be able to say, ‘the content we’re developing for social media and digital ads, that’s as sophisticated as some of the more traditional advertising work.’”
In the same webinar, Shana Glickfield, a partner at the communications and public affairs agency Beekeeper Group, explained that she advises clients to develop social content that provides quick facts for younger audiences alongside long-form content that might be more interesting to older audiences (or younger supporters engaged enough to learn more).
“Older audiences might want more information or a deeper dive. Younger audiences might just say, ‘Tell me what I need to know in a quick video and maybe I’ll take action,’” Glickfield says. “The way I encourage our clients to think about it is an inverse funnel … where you’re starting with the most narrow, but always giving people an opportunity to dig deeper if they want to learn more about the issue.”
When differentiating content for audiences, also think in terms of the different values and resources people naturally hold in different life stages. A message targeting younger people may encourage them to build a better world for their future, for example, while one targeting older audiences could encourage them to leave a better world behind for their children.
Of course, supporters from all generations are ultimately being brought together to further the same cause. But engaging each age group in a tailored manner can ensure that supporters of all ages feel welcome.
Creating Change with an Inclusive Approach
Some advocacy groups treat inclusion as a side issue, and as a result, they unknowingly suppress the number of supporters they can cultivate. Inclusion is about so much more than looking progressive or saying the right thing — inclusion is, at its heart, making sure all your potential supporters feel like they have a place in your cause.
“When you take an inclusive approach, you’re creating trust,” says Harris. “You have the ability to expand your audience. And you can really enable innovation.” In short, you develop a stronger, more effective coalition able to create real change.